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The Phillies’ New Weapon

Even after acquiring Asdrubal Cabrera, the Phillies lacked for depth on their bench. On Friday, they got creative about fixing that.

St Louis Cardinals v Miami Marlins Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images

A division foe is crossing the border and defecting. Friday afternoon, the Phillies announced that they had acquired Miami Marlins 1B Justin Bour on a waiver trade. In return, they gave Miami left-handed pitcher McKenzie Mills, whom the Phillies had previously picked up from the Washington Nationals for Howie Kendrick last season. The Phils also received some cash to help cover the remaining balance of Bour’s salary this season.

Okay, so, what kind of player is Justin Bour, really? And how does he fit on this team?

First answer: He’s quite strong. You probably realized this yourself, given how Bour hit three homers - here are two of them - in a span of four games at Citizens Bank Park just last week. The Phillies, you’d expect, would look for him to do more of the same...only for their side this time, not against it.

Bour’s hit 83 homers in his Major League career, and 75 of those have come against right-handed pitchers. Yes, that’s a 90 percent tilt to the platoon advantage. Really, he;s handled himself very well against righties in each of his four full seasons.

Justin Bour vs. RHP

2015 123 371 341 92 16 0 23 64 28 79 .270 .326 .519 .845
2016 90 291 250 67 10 1 15 49 38 44 .268 .361 .496 .857
2017 96 321 281 82 15 0 19 59 37 65 .292 .374 .548 .922
2018 101 308 257 62 7 1 17 42 49 76 .241 .360 .475 .835

Those numbers right there? They’re good. The lowest OPS, .835, would be the best mark by any Phillies LHB against right-handed pitching this season.* The 17 home runs would also place first. The .360 OBP in 2018 would be behind only Cesar Hernandez and Carlos Santana. Pick a number, and it’s probably going to be a good one.

*That is, if we’re excusing Drew Hutchison’s three plate appearances.

But there’s more to Bour’s game than just dingers, especially this season, and it’s evidenced in that OBP. While his batting average has been below .250 every day since May 1, Bour is still having an effective season at the plate thanks to a radically enhanced approach at the plate that has elevated his walk rate nearly 150 percent over 2017.

Bour Discipline

Season Team O-Swing% Z-Swing% Swing% O-Contact% Z-Contact% Contact% Zone%
Season Team O-Swing% Z-Swing% Swing% O-Contact% Z-Contact% Contact% Zone%
2015 Marlins 32.90% 63.00% 45.60% 61.70% 84.90% 75.20% 42.00%
2016 Marlins 34.50% 57.20% 44.20% 69.00% 84.50% 77.60% 42.70%
2017 Marlins 33.20% 60.80% 44.80% 62.20% 83.00% 74.00% 41.90%
2018 Marlins 28.90% 55.70% 40.50% 61.70% 83.00% 74.40% 43.40%

He’s swinging way less. Like, way less. That’s a stark change in selectivity for a guy in his fourth MLB season, but Bour, thus far, has been choosier with his swings all while still making contact at the same rates he always has. That hasn’t necessarily translated to harder contact - in fact, Bour’s hard-hit rates have slipped, despite the selectivity - but the process is good. We should trust the process.

The Phillies’ coaching staff has absolutely leveled up the guys who arrived with a good feel for working a count and being selective: Rhys Hoskins, Cesar Hernandez, and Carlos Santana own the three highest OBPs on the team, and it’s no accident that three of them consistently put together the toughest at-bats against opposing pitchers. The staff has even found a way to turn Nick Williams into a more disciplined hitter, which should certainly give us all hope for Jorge Alfaro.

You wouldn’t expect Bour to supplant Santana, who continues to not have the disaster season that you think he’s having. And even though “position” is as fluid a concept as it’s ever been in Phillies baseball, I wouldn’t expect Bour to make his Major League debut in the outfield this season. The only logical role remaining, then, is as a reserve: A sometimes-starter, frequent first-bat-off-the-bench kind of deployment. Probably doesn’t hurt to have three of your four pinch hits in a season - as is the case with Bour so far this year - be home runs, either.

The internal left-handed options hadn’t cut it, either, as Mitch Walding and Dylan Cozens have both fizzled in short stints in the Bigs. Roman Quinn, for his part, should not be expected to provide long-ball power when he digs in.

The long story short is that the Phillies identified a player whose approach at the plate, though irregular when compared with the rest of his career, fits in perfectly with the likes of Hoskins, Hernandez, and Santana. They had a need on the bench and filled it with a player with a track record of success. The cost, left-hander McKenzie Mills, was likely destined to be a Rule 5 casualty this coming winter; even if he wasn’t drafted, the Phillies have a backlog of eligible candidates that would take precedence on the depth chart for a call-up. May he find success in Miami against everyone but the Phillies.

Now, armed with a deeper bench and a potent left-handed power bat they added for relatively little (ahem), the Phillies have addressed a third weakness in the span of two weeks. They’re gearing up for a playoff push while leaving the cupboard stocked for 2019’s forthcoming moves. Hard to argue with that.